By Jillian Atelsek, Leah Brennan and Christine Condon
Senior staff writers
The family of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins declared their intentions on Wednesday to pursue changes to state hate crime legislation, shortly after a jury convicted former University of Maryland student Sean Urbanski of first-degree murder in their son’s killing.
The guilty verdict came one day after a judge opted to drop the hate crime charge against Urbanski, a member of a white supremacist Facebook group.
“I don’t know all that I will do, but absolutely, we will be doing something,” said Collins’ mother, Dawn Collins, at a press conference Wednesday in Upper Marlboro.
Judge Lawrence Hill said Tuesday that prosecutors hadn’t proven that Urbanski killed Collins because he was black. Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said her office and the Collins family will push to broaden Maryland’s hate crime statute to include cases where hate isn’t the sole factor for the crime in question.
“Other people in our community — in the future — will be able to get the justice that they deserve,” she said.
During the trial, the defense argued that race wasn’t a factor in the killing. Instead, they pointed to Urbanski’s drunkenness at the time of the incident. Plus, they argued, Collins was the only one who responded to Urbanski as he approached, in the seconds before he plunged a pocket knife into Collins’ chest.
On the whole, the state’s attorney’s office and the family expressed satisfaction with the first-degree murder verdict, for which prosecutors will seek a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“It’s been a long road, but we are very pleased with the result,” said Collins’ father, Richard Collins II. “We are looking forward to the journey ahead, because this is only the beginning.”
Braveboy said she hoped the case would “set a precedent for the nation” — despite the judge’s ruling tossing out the hate crime charge.
“I think this case will be studied,” she said. “I think this is what justice requires. We’re taking the lead on justice.”
In the waning moments of the trial, lawyers battled over whether the jury ought to convict Urbanski of first-degree or second-degree murder. The former requires that a killing be premeditated, and, in Maryland, the latter carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Urbanski’s attorneys had argued he couldn’t have planned the stabbing, and therefore could not be convicted of first-degree murder, because he was heavily intoxicated at the time of the killing.
Urbanski’s sentencing is scheduled for April 16.
A portion of the prosecution’s case focused on a series of racist memes that Urbanski had saved onto his cell phone. Several used the n-word, and one referenced throwing black people into a woodchipper.
Prosecutor Jonathon Church said the discussion of those images was a key part of the trial.
“It was very enriching … to bring forth probably some very dark things that happened on social media and what they do to people,” Church said.
At the press conference Wednesday, Richard Collins II spoke about how his son’s kind and loving nature, and how he was “extremely excited” to go into the U.S. Army — he already had orders, and was awaiting training.
When the world lost him, he said it lost “our hero, and this country’s hero.”
“He wanted to be friends with the world,” Collins’ father said. “We want the world to know that we’re going to continue to fight for his legacy.”